By Nick Eaton
Meeting Economics Professor Michael Zweig was intimidating. Without having ever heard of him before, I couldn’t help but assign importance to a man whose idea of “organized” entails a desk strewn about with papers and folders. As Najib and I peeked into the room, the second thing we noticed was a wall of shelves covered in books. Finally Michael Zweig, typing away at his computer in the back of the room, caught our attention. The man looks like Karl Marx.
If you search “Michael Zweig,” you’ll find his article for The Nation and multiple interviews on PBS. You’ll find an Amazon listing of his books and of course his Stony Brook University faculty page. Suffice it to say that, at the very least, he knows his shit. As the Director of the Center for the Study of Working Class Life, Professor Zweig is certainly the go-to guy regarding economic issues that affect the vast majority of SBU students.
As Najib and I launched questions, the answers we received came back in plain English. While many Wall Street types aim their sights at “too much government regulation” as the cause of the crisis, a simple breakdown of the crisis itself shows that a circumstantial lack of responsibility was to blame for the mess. Whether or not government is the solution is up to debate, but government certainly wasn’t the cause – opportunity and greed were. Despite falling to the Keynesian side of the divide, Zweig was more than a little skeptical regarding Obama’s economic stimulus package as am I. The tax cuts are more political posturing than effective policy and the job creation is minimal to say the least. While this may possibly slow down the current downward spiral, another stimulus will be required in the future. This begs the question of whether or not Obama will have the political clout to accomplish that goal. In the face of what will be framed as a “failed” stimulus package by Republicans, can Obama stave off criticism enough to pass another omnibus spending bill?
Recouping the money spent on the bailouts would, I think, be a step in the right direction. A securities speculation tax could help. Advocated by economist Dean Baker as well as the ever-vigilant presidential candidate Ralph Nader, a securities speculation tax would be the equivalent of the taxes paid at casinos or playing the state lottery. The difference being the majority of participants in the financial market “roulette,” so to speak, are wealthy individuals. Nader sums the concept up nicely: “Why should you pay a 5 to 6 percent sales tax for buying the necessities of life, when tomorrow, some speculator on Wall Street can buy $100 million worth of Exxon derivatives and not pay one penny in sales tax?”
He continues by stating that “the basic premise of taxation should be to first tax what society likes the least or dislikes the most, before it taxes honest labor or human needs.” Zweig added that such a tax would have to be federal. If done at the state level, the stock exchange could merely change its location and sidestep the tax entirely. Such a tax would also enable a lightening of the income tax which would benefit all Americans.